From coach to future olympian

Exploring JV coach Zaid Hassan’s field hockey career

Jayanti Jha

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For 19-year-old MVHS field hockey coach Zaid Hassan, the Olympics isn’t just an event he watches on TV it’s his goal. Hassan is currently working to be on the U.S. men’s national field hockey team by winning a series of games and tournaments along the way as part of the U21 national team.

“First, 2020 playing at Pan Am Games and winning,” Hassan said. “So if we win, we’re going to be going on to the Junior World Cup. So hopefully we can make the World Cup if we qualify at the Pan-Ams. Later in life, it’s probably the 2024 Olympics and the 2028 Olympics for sure in Los Angeles.”

Hassan says his ability to play at this level and skill comes from years of practice. He was introduced to field hockey at a young age by his father, who played for the Pakistan national team. 

“In the beginning, this sport was actually pretty weird to me,” Hassan said. “I didn’t like it at all. But I moved back to Pakistan for about two years and when I came back, I was actually pretty good from practicing with cousins. And from there, just practice, lots of practice.”

Hassan made the U.S. junior national team at 13 and continued playing through the national teams to get to where he is now the U21 national team and the developmental squad for the senior team. To share the knowledge and skill he has obtained from playing at an international level of competition, Hassan previously coached at Lions Field Hockey Club in San Jose and now coaches the MVHS girls JV team. Homestead sophomore Sehej Shoker shares her experiences with Coach Hassan as part of the Lions. 

“When being coached by [Hassan], it was always such a fun experience,” Shoker said. “Not only were you being pushed to play your hardest, but you also were laughing and having fun with it. And because he’s not that much older, like other coaches, you can have more of a connection with him, so you don’t feel as intimidated by asking questions, and the feedback he gave was really amazing because he tells you exactly what to do. He points out things you never even realized before, like the angle of your foot and how that affects your playing.”

Sophomore Vaishnavi Suresh also emphasizes the enjoyable environment Hassan has created for the team while simultaneously teaching them strategy and techniques. 

“He’s still very young and still has a career in like field hockey, which is really interesting because we get to learn from him and watch his games and grow,” Suresh said. “He’s just in general a really good coach. As in, he’s always there to help us. For our team, he almost feels like a teammate, like a higher level teammate. He gives us advice and teaches us how to play, and we respect him like that. But at the same time, he’s still fun to be around.”

However it’s not just the fun atmosphere Hassan provides while coaching that makes him a stellar coach, according to Suresh. She says he has greatly increased the team’s motivation to play and perform at their best. 

“As captain, I got to see the way all of my teammates respect him on a different level and how they learn to grow from him because of how far he’s come in hockey,” Suresh said. “And the fact that he’s on the national team is really inspires a lot of us to work as hard as him in order to hopefully one day be as good as him.”

Shoker shares a similar sentiment in that Hassan’s work ethic also motivates her to be a better field hockey player. She also explains that Hassan has helped more than her field skills —he has helped better her character and mindset. 

“He always has taught me to believe in myself and not let my doubts get in the way,” Shoker said. “Because sometimes, I have a really bad day at school, and you can see that at practice. Like, I didn’t do good on my test, and he’s always so reassuring. And he’ll get you through it. And he’ll remind you to believe in yourself and how great of a person you are and all the things that you do. He’ll never let you feel down when you’re around him.” 

Hassan’s coaching not only benefits his players’ skills and attitude towards the sport; he feels that it has also helped him grow as a player. 

“Not only coaching MVHS, coaching other clubs, other players, it’s actually improved my skills I see on the field,” Hassan said. “So how to drive or how to run with the ball, it’s always in my head now, now that I’ve been saying it so much to other people and telling them what’s right, what’s wrong.”

Hassan also feels that field hockey as a whole has helped him become a more well-rounded person. 

“Over many years of playing, one main thing [I learned] was communication,” Hassan said. “Before I started, I still remember, when I was young, I was really shy. But now I’m actually open to everyone. Like if someone talks to me  I’m not going to back off, [I] might step up and talk to you.” 

Hassan adds that playing field hockey has provided him an optimistic attitude. Rather than dwelling on losses, he chooses to use them to become a better player and focuses on his main goal: the Olympics. 

“Losses are going to be hard,” Hassan said. “But at the end of the day, we got to be positive. At the end of the day, we, together with our team, and then with our coaches, we go over the videos. And we just [look] out for each other, that we got this. We’re not just doing it for this tournament, but we’re doing it for the future. And the future is 2024 or 2028.”